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the Constitution now stands, perhaps no man can gainsay or resist them. But they must enjoy the satisfaction of knowing, that they violate the spirit and intent of the Constitution, in the very act by which they bind themselves to support it.
And here let me say, to those who so rigidly maintain the doctrine that the inquiry into a man's religious belief, which this Bill proposes to abolish, is an interference between a man and his Maker, (a plea, by the way, which no atheist certainly will presume to set up for himself, since he acknowledges no Maker,) — that the oath itself to which this inquiry is previous, is a tenfold greater interference, and that they take their exception at the wrong place. An oath is an acknowledgment of God. A compulsory oath is a compulsory acknowledgment of God. And those who submit to the administration of an oath, and yet refuse to submit to the previous inquiry, may fairly be said to "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.”
But it is a test. Well, Sir, and what if it is? I do not know that a thing is any the worse in itself for having an odious name applied to it. I admit that it is a test. And if gentlemen point me to the persecution and oppression of which tests have been the instruments in other ages and other climes, all I can say is, that this is not such a test. Because things may bear the same appellation, they are not necessarily the same or similar things, any more than it follows, because the gentleman from Gloucester and myself were christened alike, that he and I should necessarily advocate the same doctrines, or that I should be gisted with the same ingenuity and eloquence that he is. It is a test. But it is not a religious test, any more than it is a chemical test. It is a test of a man's capacity to take an oath, and that is the beginning, middle, and end of the whole matter.
Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that under the present system of oaths, this test, instead of being a persecution and oppression of an atheist, is a positive protection and favor to bim, enabling him to escape from a ceremonial acknowledgment of a God in whom he does not believe. And why any Christian should object to it, I consess I am at a loss to conceive. There seems to be a morbid and mawkish sensibility in some men's minds upon this and other subjects, which if the law should regard, instead of being as it is sometimes called, the perfection of human reason, it would become the mere patchwork of human whims.
But, says the gentleman from Cambridge, as the rule now stands, the atheist is an outlaw. From what right, Sir, or what privilege? I had generally supposed that to be a witness was an unpleasant and onerous duty, from which men were not sorry to be exempt. But an atheist may be murdered in the streets, or assassinated, or assaulted, when none but atheists are near, and how shall justice be administered in his behalf ? Why, so may a Christian be injured or killed under precisely the same circumstances. And if the atheist be therefore an outlaw, we are all outlaws. You and I, Sir, may need the testimony of atheists as much as any of their own tribe. For myself, I am content to take the risk. But admitting that there may be some cases in which the rule will work hardly upon the atheist exclusively, whose fault is it? Who outlaws him ? Has society withheld from him any of those means of religious knowledge and education which she has so liberally provided for others ? Has God denied to him those inlets of truth and those influences of grace, which he has so freely bestowed upon the rest of his children? But I refrain from a topic on which I have already expressed an opinion.
It is a little curious, Mr. Speaker, that so much of this debate upon a subject so closely connected with the practice of our Courts, should have been taken up with a discussion of abstract principles. At the outset of the debate, indeed, nothing but these abstract principles was relied on in favor of the bill. Gentlemen gave us an abundance of “ wise saws,” but no “ modern instances;” nor, indeed, ancient ones either, though the annals of infidelity seemed to have been raked back for centuries. During the last day or two, however, the discussion has assumed rather a more practical cast. And the friends of the Bill have exhibited to us some cases of the bad operation of the present rule. But, Sir, with one or two trivial and wholly unimportant exceptions, the cases are all supposed cases; the facts are all imaginary facts; the evils are all invented evils. And what is there under the sun, which will stand against such arguments ? There is nothing so pure, nothing so holy, nothing so useful, nothing of such good report on earth or, I had almost said, in Heaven, which an ingenious imagination, which a subtle inven. tion, may not, — I do not say merely, find fault with, and pick flaws in, - but which they may not show up in such a deformed, distorted, and monstrous shape, as to startle every one whom they address. And, Sir, if we are to yield ourselves up to the influence of such suggestions, we shall“ subtilize ourselves into savages.” Our ship of state, instead of holding on that high career of Constitutional liberty, which now lies open before it, will be swung off upon a sea of speculation, — the sport of every wind of doctrine and every wave of opinion, which may blow or beat upon her sides.
Mr. Speaker, I have already dwelt too long upon a subject which had been wellnigh exhausted before I gained the floor. Yet I cannot conclude without alluding to some remarks which fell from the gentleman from Gloucester at the very opening of the debate, and which yesterday received some notice from the gentleman from Newburyport. I refer to his comments upon a recent charge of one of the Judges of our Supreme Court. I understood him to say, that the learned Judge used language of this sort, - that, if any man entertained doubts or a disbelief of the Christian Religion, he ought to keep such sentiments to himself. And the gentleman has inferred from this language, that the Judge would recommend hypocrisy to the people, and perhaps, therefore, would not shrink from practising it himself. Sir, if any such inference may fairly and reasonably be drawn, I freely submit myself, in company with the learned Judge, to whatever censure it involves. I indorse the sentiment, if it be not presumption so to speak, and adopt it as my own. I hold it to be the duty, the moral, the social duty, (and to such a man there can be no higher,) of every one who may have fallen into such a state of mind, to conceal it, I had almost said, even from himself. Nay, further, I maintain that any intelligent man, whose mind has thus been turned back from its highest and noblest object of knowledge and devotion, but who still sees clearly, as any intelligent man must see, the infinite blessings which Christianity has bestowed upon mankind, the comforts and joys in life, the consolation and hopes in death, which it has
afforded to the individual man, the civilization, refinement, peace, prosperity, and freedom which it has given to the world at large, - yes, freedom, Sir, — for under what other auspices than those of the Gospel, have the rights of men been most successfully asserted and maintained ? - at what other beams than those of the Sun of Righteousness was our own loved star of liberty first kindled into being and brilliancy ?— any intelligent man, I repeat, who, seeing all this, can yet go about preaching up and making proselytes to his own accursed infidelity,— however he may have the image of God upon his brow, can have nothing but the spirit of a demon in his breast.
I hope the House will reject the Bill.
PROTECTION TO DOMESTIC INDUSTRY.
A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF MASSA
CHUSETTS, FEBRUARY 15, 1837.
I HAVE hinted, Mr. Speaker, more than once in the course of this debate, while expressing my views of the various amendments which have been offered to the paper on your table, that I might trouble the House with a few remarks upon the general question, whenever that question should come up. It is now before us. The proposed amendments have all been rejected, and the original resolutions, in the form in which they first came from the committee-room, unmutilated and unaltered, are now awaiting our ultimate action. I confess, Sir, that I had expected, in this stage of the question, to see some redemption of the pledges which were so abundantly given out when the subject was introduced into the House. I had expected that those who were so eager and so bold to throw down the gauntlet of defiance at the outset of this business, and to cast such unmeasured terms of contumely and contempt upon the principles which these resolutions embody, would have favored us, at this point of the controversy, with something beside hard words, gratuitous assertions, or even jocular sallies to quarrel with. But though every opportunity has been afforded, and almost every provocation offered, though the gauntlet originally thrown down has not only thrice been taken up, but fearlessly and repeatedly brandished in the very eyes of those from whom it fell, no champion of free trade has yet appeared in the lists, and, so far as the principles of the Protecting System are concerned, we are still lest to make battle upon an imaginary foe. Sir, I have no disposition to protract this onesided contest. I willl not conjure up shapes of opposition. I